13.50: To summarise: Shetland Islands Council will again consist of 22 independent councillors between now and 2017 after poor performances by both the SNP and Scottish Christian Party. Just three of the new intake – Andrea Manson, Amanda Westlake and Vaila Wishart – are women. Nine of the old guard kept their seats, with only Caroline Miller and Jim Henry losing out.
The town hall has rapidly emptied following the last two declarations, leaving only a smattering of goggle-eyed hacks tapping away at their battered laptops.
We’ll leave you with some reaction from the two Lerwick wards. Malcolm Bell can stake a claim to be the most popular councillor in Shetland today, having won the first preferences of 56 per cent of Lerwick North voters. The only candidate to get more votes was Allison Duncan, whose 685 votes equated 45 per cent of those who voted in the South Mainland.
Mr Bell had to leave the police force early for health reasons, but said he felt “too young to be put out to grass”. “I felt I had another big job in me, and felt the council was the ideal opportunity to bring my experience gained and to continue working in public service,” he said. “People want to support and trust the council. I think, to a large extent, that the last council never recovered from a difficult start.”
The windfarm was a “consistent” issue and he felt the consensus among Lerwick North voters was that, like it or not, “we need to make the best of it” now the project has received planning consent.
Allan Wishart saw his share of the vote take a fair old pounding, but he didn’t necessarily agree that his involvement as project co-ordinator for Viking Energy was the cause, saying it hadn’t been a huge issue on town doorsteps.
He wants to turn attention to housing, where 1,000 are on the waiting list. Many houses in the north end of Lerwick were built in the 1970s and 1980s and are now in need of refurbishment, with rendering falling off and insulation not up to scratch.
Over in Lerwick South, Jonathan Wills was pleased with his 646 votes – more than a third of the electorate placing a “1” next to his name – but hugely disappointed by the fact that only one in two voters had exercised their democratic right: “People are dying for the vote in Syria, and I find it very depressing,” he said.
Dr Wills said people were “very worried at the scale and speed of cuts”. He believes the council made a “big mistake” at its February budget-setting meeting by dismissing larger-scale cuts he was proposing, instead going for “small, irritating stuff like closing Freefield”, which has caused a major stushie in the past two months.
Cecil Smith – tipped in some circles for the convener role – performed pretty well too, and he put his success down to simply getting out and hearing what people have to say. He understands there is significant concern about the pace of budget cuts, and says “if we have to stretch to a bit more than two years I’d be prepared to look at that”, but the priority has to be to “get our finances in order”.
New to the council is Peter Campbell, who was second to Dr Wills in the 2008 by-election. “I’m delighted the voters expressed confidence in me, and I hope I can justify that confident,” he said, adding that the potential consequences of all proposed cuts should be forensically examined before any decisions are made. For instance, it would make no sense to look at closing junior high schools without buttoning down the construction of a new Anderson High School.
By way of a footnote, the SNP are undoubtedly the pre-eminent force in national politics, but they are still having no joy in establishing a foothold in Shetland. Their candidates Danus Skene and Iain Morrison polled a pretty disastrous 184 votes between them in the two Lerwick wards.
Amanda Hawick Westlake was the third and final woman to make it into the council after Vaila Wishart and Andrea Manson. “I’m thoroughly delighted with the result – absolutely thrilled that folk have come and voted for me. I would like to thank them all and I’m looking forward to getting down to business.” Among the issues she has on her list are housing, ferries and social care. “Let’s hope it is going to be a very positive and strong council looking forward over the next five years for Shetland.”
Michael Stout was astounded, “delighted” and “chuffed” to make it onto the council but also in a state of some shock as he embraced his delighted wife, Cathy. He wants change. “From the reaction going around the doors I got the message of getting back to basics, time for a change – a change in attitude as much as anything else.”
He says he makes no pretence that he is a politician but he says he does care deeply about the issues affecting Shetland. He hopes he’ll bring “a bit of midder wit” and sees himself as someone who likes to “look at the bigger picture”.
On the windfarm, he says he started as a supporter and still supported wind power but he has deep concerns about the Viking proposals as they stand, believing a lot more info needs to come out.
12.59: That’s it all over now. The outspoken Jonathan Wills has evidently proved immensely popular with voters since winning a 2008 by-election, coming out on top in Lerwick South with a whacking 646 votes. Cecil Smith has held onto his seat, getting in at the second stage after winning 319 first preferences. New to the council will be Amanda Westlake (229 votes, getting in at stage six) and Peter Campbell (259 votes, reaching the 355 quota at stage five).
Jim Henry was narrowly elected five years ago, but it wasn’t to be this time: he was pushed out to seventh place with just 58 first preferences. Fifth and sixth were socialist Robbie Leith (144 first preferences) and SNP candidate Iain Morrison (119 votes). The turnout was a smidgeon higher than in Lerwick North at 51.07 per cent, with 1,774 valid papers and 17 rejected ballots.
12.52: In Lerwick North, the result largely followed accepted wisdom. First came ex-police chief Malcolm Bell with a colossal 684 first preference votes, more than half the 1,212 valid papers cast. Elected at stage two was Bressay-based Michael Stout, who scooped 207 first preferences. Allan Wishart, who romped home in 2007, saw his share of the vote take a major dunt but he was eventually elected at stage seven, having won 147 first preferences.
The other incumbent, Caroline Miller, didn’t fare so well: she was pushed out to sixth with a meagre 35 first preference votes, making her the first councillor to fail to win re-election today. She was narrowly ahead of retired postman Bill Adams on 28. SNP candidate Danus Skene was fourth with 65 first preferences, followed by suave dresser Alex Wright with 46 votes. Turnout was a shade below half at 49.86 per cent.
Just Lerwick South to go now.
12.43: Former police chief Malcolm Bell, Michael Stout and ex-Viking Energy project co-ordinator Allan Wishart have been elected to the Lerwick North ward.
12.34: The people of the North Mainland have given an enormous vote of confidence to Andrea Manson, who polled a tremendous 444 first preferences. A successful businesswoman and property owner, she runs the St Magnus Bay Hotel in Hillswick and is co-owner of the Mid Brae Inn (which suffered a bad fire six days ago). She told The Shetland Times she has “no worries” about how to fit those interests in while absorbing the duties of a councillor: “I’ve got excellent support, a splendid partner who is also my business partner.”
Ms Manson, who was previously a councillor for some 11 years, said the first big decision faced by the council – as charitable trust trustees – was the direction of Viking Energy. Transport and schools were also hot topics among voters.
“It’s important that we make promises and stick to them,” she said. “The last council flitted from idea to idea. We need a lot of common sense.”
Drew Ratter had few takers for his plea for a like-minded group of councillors to club together ahead of the election, and he had a nail-biting wait for confirmation that he had been returned. Needless to say, he was “relieved” and “happy to have the process completed”. Mr Ratter said the council “needs to get a grip” and he will have “more thoughts by the first of the week”.
Mr Coutts was not hugely surprised to succeed because he’d had such a positive experience on the doorsteps. Though he lives in Weisdale, being brought up in Yell gave him a good understanding of the issues faced by islanders.
Top priorities include ferry services and schools. There is a lot of uncertainty on both counts – there are impending top-to-bottom reviews. As well as commuters, there is a great deal of aquaculture-related traffic on ferries in and out of the North Isles, and Mr Coutts says reduced services “would have a crucial effect on that and on Shetland as a whole”. He is opposed to all school closures.
Well-known for his environmental views, Mr Coutts is on balance in favour of Viking Energy. As a Weisdale resident he will live in the shadow of some of the turbines, but the income it will generate and the knock-on effect for other renewables lead him to support it.
Robert Henderson performed very well, substantially increasing his vote compared to 2007, which has left him feeling “very humbled”. Over the last five years, despite the “severe struggle” the council as a whole faced, he tried to keep his head down and “serve the community to the best of my ability”. And it was not all doom and gloom for the North Isles, he said, pointing to the “major achievement” of the new Mid Yell Junior High School being completed and opened, a new pier for Uyeasound and a long-awaited breakwater for Fetlar, which is nearing completion.
Like Mr Coutts, he found that inter-island ferry links were the biggest concern, along with schools and care for the elderly.
12.20: One of the unknown faces coming to the council chamber is Gary Cleaver, the first Unst-based councillor since Mark Ritch. “I’m delighted,” he said. “I don’t think anyone could really predict the North Isles ballot.” His campaign was thwarted by IT problems – in other words he couldn’t get his computer to work. So instead he burned some rubber, getting out to see as many voters as he could. It seems to have worked. “They all have opinions. They all have views and that’s really helped me shape how I want to go forward.
“For the North Isles some of our priorities are slightly different from the Mainland. One of our major concerns is any reduction to the ferry service and obviously rural schools are a big issue with us. We’ve already seen one go and we don’t want to see any more go. So, I think that will keep us busy enough!”
He did not think the windfarm was near the top of the list in the North Isles and declined to express a view, saying instead: “It’s down to my constituents and how they feel. I’m there to represent them.” But he was a tad confused about how far the complicated Viking project has progressed, believing the council still had to give planning approval for individual turbines.
Interestingly, despite the apparent unpopularity of the last administration, so far every single one of the councillors seeking re-election has been successful. With just the two Lerwick wards remaining, will Jim Henry, Caroline Miller, Cecil Smith, Jonathan Wills and Allan Wishart have similar fortune? Among the new candidates tipped to do well are ex-police chief Malcolm Bell, Amanda Westlake (who, atypically, is both young and female) and Michael Stout. And how will the two SNP candidates fare? We should find out within the next half an hour.
11.50: Former Viking Energy chairman Drew Ratter will be back in the chamber after a five-year stint at the Crofters Commission, but only just: he won 257 first preference votes but didn’t get past the quota threshold of 359 until the seventh and final stage. Hotelier Andrea Manson, who also has past experience as a councillor, won a resounding victory with 444 first preference votes. Alastair Cooper comfortably held his seat with 346 first preference votes, his seat being confirmed at the second stage. The best of the rest was Davy Cooper, who won 172 first preferences, followed by ex-Hayfield official Jim Reyner on 119, Alan MacDonald on 59 and Colin Arnot on 36 votes.
The North Isles declaration is expected any moment now.
11.47: Andrea Manson, Alastair Cooper and Drew Ratter have been elected for the Shetland North ward. The turnout was almost 58 per cent.
11.41: Billy Fox has been speaking about his victory. Though best known for his work at the helm of anti-Viking Energy group Sustainable Shetland, which he has now stepped aside from, the windfarm is just “one debate among many” and he doesn’t envisage huge conflict with other councillors: “I’m sure we’ll agree on 95 per cent of other issues.”
His wife Linda says the family has already “had a taste of public life” throughout the lengthy windfarm campaign, “but that’s not the only issue he is interested in: he’s passionate about Shetland”.
Among the important issues Mr Fox has detected are concern for frontline services, with cuts to schools budgets creating particular alarm, and opposition to frozen meals on wheels for elderly folk. The impending budget cuts are creating uncertainty: “Folk don’t know what’s round the corner.”
Meanwhile, the boy named Allison once again pulled in a colossal vote and he was magnanimous after his victory. He paid tribute to the work of retired councillors Jim Budge and Rick Nickerson in the past five years, wishing them a happy retirement and extending a warm welcome to new arrivals Mr Fox and Mr Smith: “I hope we will work together for the future of South Mainland, including Fair Isle, and my commiserations to Mr Shearer.”
11.39: Some of Shetland’s voters obviously had a few problems doing their democratic duty yesterday. Ballot papers going through the system include ones which said: “Hi Jan!”. Mr Riise joked: “I didn’t know I had any friends!”
People had a few problems writing numbers instead of X on their sheet. If they put a cross then made it look like a 1 their vote was accepted but if they put three ticks or crosses the paper was spoiled because no clear preference was shown.
Someone spoilt their paper with the bizarre phrase: “Don’t follow your leaders. Watch your parking meters.” An old hippie in the room said it was a Bob Dylan lyric!
11.32: George Smith said he had enjoyed the campaign and was obviously pleased to get in. His priorities are to get the council budget under control. “We have to get back to making sensible decisions as a council.” His particular interest is education and he believes there is a desperate need to have a clear strategy and school closures should only follow if and when there is a strategy that says closures are the best way to go in education.
On the Viking windfarm, he says he has been consistent. “I believe the windfarm is going to go ahead now that planning permission is in place. Surely the worst thing that can happen for Shetland is for it to go ahead without the community getting the benefit out of it so I believe the charitable trust has to continue to be a partner in it.” Of course, one of his Shetland South colleagues takes the opposite view but Mr Smith has “absolutely no problem” working alongside him. Nor does he envisage trouble with Da Flea!
11.26am: Mark Burgess is nowhere to be seen at the town hall, but we’ve been speaking to the other successful candidates in the Central ward. Vaila Wishart says her success is “overwhelming”. People obviously liked her message on the doorstep that the new administration must try to sort out the council’s finances. First and foremost for many is to protect primary schools and “make sure the basic stages of education are not reduced”. She also thinks her Viking Energy stance – that it is far too big – was also popular, adding: “The more I see of the finances, the less convinced I am that it’s financially sound.”
The turnout was lower than in other wards so far this morning, which Davie Sandison said was “disappointing”, but needless to say he is chuffed at getting another big share of the vote. He said cutting out waste in the council, looking after the oil funds better and the need for new housing to meet demand in Scalloway and Burra were keystone issues for the electorate, and he is looking forward to serving between now and 2017: “Let’s freshen up, let’s try and regain the confidence of the people of Shetland.”
11am: Davie Sandison, Mark Burgess and Vaila Wishart have been elected for Shetland West.
10.52am: As expected, it’s five more years for Da Flea: Allison Duncan won a thumping 685 first preference votes to be re-elected at stage one. He got a first preference vote from almost half the 1,508 voters who submitted valid ballot papers. Also elected at stage one was George Smith, with 418 first preference votes, while Billy Fox – who came runner-up to Tavish Scott in last year’s Scottish Parliament poll – won through at stage two, having received 337 first preference votes. The Christian Party’s Andrew Shearer polled only 68 first preferences. There were nine rejected papers and the turnout was a sturdy 56.63 per cent, down slightly on 63.6 per cent in 2007.
10.51am: Indeed, a little earlier than predicted, Allison Duncan, George Smith and Billy Fox have been elected for Shetland South. The turnout was 56.6 per cent.
10.42am: The next sets of ballot papers now going through the bank of computers, which take up more than half of the main hall in the coonty buildings, are for Shetland South and Shetland Central. The former race, where only four candidates are standing, looks fairly predictable – with Christian Party hopeful Andrew Shearer struggling for votes, it would be a major upset if Allison Duncan was not joined by former Sustainable Shetland chairman Billy Fox and ex-Shetland College man George Smith. Those three have been deep in conversation this morning.
The Shetland Central ward could be more interesting. Davie Sandison romped home in December’s by-election to replace Iris Hawkins, and should have few problems getting re-elected. None of the other five candidates have prior experience as a councillor.
Our old boss Vaila Wishart is “full of trepidation” as the Shetland Central ward is being counted, with early indications that she has polled fairly well. “I kept griping about the council, and people said ‘why don’t you stand?’, so I did,” she tells us. On the doorstep, education has been the main worry: the idea of shutting primary schools was a really big issue.
Views from the Scord columnist Mark Burgess could also be in with a shout. The three other candidates are the Christian Party’s Peter Jamieson, window-cleaner Ian Scott and John Hunter.
We should get both results by around 11am.
10.32: Theo Smith puts his success down to being well-known and having a view on most things, which he says tends to be black or white. “I hope it remains like that!” he said. In his manifesto he was strong on supporting local schools, which he thinks played well with the West Side voters. Then, of course, there is his opposition to the Viking windfarm which he says is “not emotive” but down to concerns about how practical the development is and whether the financial case is sound.
Mr Smith is brimming with ideas for his first term in the council chamber – not least the formidable task of trying to change how the local authority is run. He is concerned about what he sees as a lack of political accountability in the council. “I think it’s been very undemocratic and I would like to see that made a bit better.” He believes the executive committee has far too much power and wants the convener, vice-convener and all the committee chairs and vice-chairs to stand for re-election half way through their term. “I would hope that a lot of the new councillors would support that – I’m not so sure about the older ones but I hope they support it.”
10.20: Frank Robertson, who has a dozen years’ experience in the town hall, has just told us he was relieved to get back in. His focus having been re-elected will be to ensure projects under way on the West Side are completed, his main priority being the £3.7 million Walls Pier investment.
Gary Robinson, who spent big chunks of the past five years opposing the direction the SIC had been taking, said he was “delighted” and at the same time “under no illusion” about the difficult tasks and hard work which lies in wait for the new council.
The windfarm had been a big issue on doorsteps, though Mr Robinson said it was beyond the point where the council can do much about it. He thinks his clear stance on Viking Energy – since 2010 he has backed the SIC planning department’s view that the windfarm is too big – helped bolster his popularity with voters. He will now be seeking clarity about councillors’ perceived conflict of interest regarding the project, because he says members have received conflicting advice to date.
10.05: Theo Smith was delighted by his big vote. “I’m actually quite overwhelmed, getting in on the first preference vote and I ‘m delighted that Gary and Frank have got past the post too. I’ll be quite happy to work with them – I know them both.” He said it had been a clean contest and he was looking forward to working on the new council. “I hope to be able to contribute”. The three West Shetland candidates who polled lowest were not at the count: Andy Holt, Ian Tinkler and Marion Hughson
10.02: Jan Riise has just taken to the podium to declare the following result for the Shetland West ward: Gary Robinson and Theo Smith elected at stage one of the count, and Frank Robertson at stage seven. Mr Smith took 481 first preference votes, followed by Mr Robinson with 359 votes. Mr Robertson (112 votes) was actually behind Tom Macintyre (117 votes) after the first stage, but once other preferences were factored in, Mr Robertson hung onto his seat. Turnout was 63.99 per cent, almost identical to 2007, and there were nine rejected ballot papers. Of the other candidates, Ian Tinkler polled 78 first preference votes, Andy Holt 77 and Marion Hughson 68.
9.56am: West Side hopeful Theo Smith says his cheerful grin this morning is “just nervousness”. “I’m never confident until I hear the result,” he said.
Frank Robertson, accompanied by his wife Charlotte, says it has been a good campaign on the West Side with a lot of interest. He has now qualms about the next five years in the Town Hall, if re-elected. “I guess it’s going to be the toughest five years ever, considering the major service reviews that have to be carried out but at the end of it I think things are not going to be as bad as some of the pessimists say. Coming to the end of 2015/2016 I am hoping they will be getting financial returns from Total.”
He believes the current lean period will be followed by jobs and opportunities as the west of Shetland oil and gas sector takes off.
9.52am: The perils of live radio! Radio Shetland, which is broadcasting live from the town hall, was silent for a few minutes there. Quick apology from station boss John Johnston and back on the road. Pros.
9.32am: Back in 2007, Bridge of Walls-based Frank Robertson topped the poll, followed by Gary Robinson in second place and Florence Grains in third on a 63.87 per cent turnout. One of the unsuccessful candidates five years ago, Marion Hughson, is giving it another try this year. The West Side turnout is expected to be the highest of anywhere in Shetland. Many of the turbines for the proposed Viking Energy windfarm, which has overshadowed this campaign, would be sited in this constituency. All candidates bar Tom Macintyre have, to varying degrees, expressed opposition to the controversial project. We should get a declaration in around 10-15 minutes, with some observers expecting Theo Smith to win a first stint in the council chamber.
9.06am: Jan Riise has officially declared the count open. We should learn before 10am which three out of the seven West Side candidates have been successful. Frank Robertson and Gary Robinson are defending their seats in a ward where veteran councillor Florence Grains has retired. They are up against Andy Holt, Marion Hughson, Liberal Democrat chairman Theo Smith and Ian Tinkler. All seven are standing as independents.
8.59am: Councillors have started arriving at Lerwick Town Hall to learn their fate at the 2012 local election count. The counters are due to get started with the Shetland West constituency shortly after 9am.
With these being the first local government elections not to be twinned with Holyrood polls since before the Scottish Parliament was created in 1999, turnout has been difficult to call. Returning officer Jan Riise described activity at polling booths as “brisk” when we went to press yesterday, but soon after it started raining.
After a torrid five-year term, half of the 22 councillors have chosen to retire. Some of the incumbent candidates have admitted that “five more years of the same” hasn’t been the easiest sell on doorsteps in the past month, so it will be interesting to see how many of the 11 who are standing again manage to hang onto their seats. You can read The Shetland Times’ scene-setting article here.